Is PTSD a Disability? SSDI Eligibility Requirements

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may qualify for Social Security disability benefits and work accommodations.
Lee Huffman
By Lee Huffman 
Published
Edited by Tina Orem

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and work accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if the symptoms affect the ability to maintain employment or complete daily activities of living.

Veterans and active duty members of the military often experience PTSD, but this condition can also affect anyone who has lived through a traumatic event. Examples include sexual assault, gun violence, spousal abuse, automobile accidents, kidnapping or surviving a natural disaster.

Types of PTSD that qualify for disability

To qualify for SSDI benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) requires that you meet all of the following criteria:

To help make these determinations, the Social Security Administration asks five questions:

  1. Are you working? If so, you must earn less than a certain limit per month. The substantial gainful activity limit for 2024 is $1,550 per month ($2,590 if blind).

  2. Is your condition "severe," meaning that for at least 12 months it significantly limits your ability to lift, stand, walk, sit or remember things?

  3. Is your condition on the Social Security Administration’s list of disabling conditions it considers severe enough to prevent a person from performing substantial gainful activity?

  4. Can you do work you did previously?

  5. Can you do any other type of work? The Social Security Administration looks at your medical condition, as well as your age, education, work experience and transferable skills

    Social Security Administration. How We Decide If You Have a Qualifying Disability. Accessed Oct 31, 2023.
    .

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Can I get VA disability for PTSD?

Yes, if your PTSD is caused by your service in the military, you may qualify for disability income from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Although it is provided by the government, the assistance is separate from SSDI and only available to veterans who have a service-related injury.

VA disability provides qualifying veterans with monthly payments. Your monthly benefit amount depends on several factors, including the severity of your disability. You can file a claim for VA disability benefits at VA.gov and may qualify for VA-sponsored healthcare if your claim is approved

.

How much disability does PTSD get?

The average monthly Social Security Disability Insurance benefit in September 2023 was $1,350, according to the Social Security Administration

Social Security Administration. Table 2, Social Security benefits, September 2023. Accessed Oct 31, 2023.
.

  • To receive SSDI benefits, you must have contributed to Social Security via payroll taxes you paid while working. Accordingly, the size of your disability benefits varies based on your work history and how much you earned. 

  • There is usually a five-month waiting period before receiving disability benefits. Due to these delays, it makes sense to have an emergency fund or short-term disability policy to help cover your financial needs until SSDI benefits take effect.

SSDI benefits for your family

If you're eligible for disability benefits, your spouse and children may also qualify for disability benefits.

  • Your spouse may receive benefits if they are age 62 or older. Additionally, they may receive benefits if they're caring for your child under the age of 16 or who was disabled before age 22.

  • Unmarried children may be eligible for SSDI benefits until age 18. However, if the child is a full-time high school student who isn't married, benefits are available until they graduate or until two months past age 19, whichever comes first

    Social Security Administration. Disability Benefits | Family Benefits. Accessed Oct 31, 2023.
    .

Work accommodations for PTSD

The ADA protects people against discrimination and harassment at work due to PTSD, depression and other mental health conditions. Additionally, the ADA requires that employers offer privacy and reasonable accommodations to help you do your job

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Depression, PTSD, & Other Mental Health Conditions in the Workplace: Your Legal Rights. Accessed Oct 31, 2023.
.

The accommodations vary based on your condition, workplace environment and other factors. These accommodations may include, but are not limited to:

  • Altered break and work schedules.

  • Quiet office space.

  • Changes in supervisory methods.

  • Specific shift assignments.

  • Permission to work from home.

How to apply for SSDI

If you believe you qualify for SSDI benefits due to PTSD, here are the steps in the application process.

  1. Gather your information and documentation. You'll need information about your diagnosis, medication and treatment, as well as information about your family, job history and military service. The SSA offers an Adult Disability Checklist to help applicants know what information they need.

  2. Submit your application. You can complete your SSDI application online, in person at a local Social Security office or by calling 800-772-1213. 

  3. The Social Security Administration verifies your application. The SSA verifies your work history and that you have enough work credits to qualify for disability benefits. The number of required work credits varies based on your age when the disability began. However, the general rule is that you need 40 credits, 20 of which must have been earned in the 10 years before your disability began.

  4. Your state makes a decision. The Social Security Administration forwards the application to the Disability Determination Services office in your state, which makes a decision on your application for SSDI benefits.

How likely is it that the SSA will approve my SSDI application?

The Social Security Administration denies many applications for SSDI (about 62% in 2022)

Social Security Administration. Fiscal Year 2022 Workload Data: Disability Decisions. Accessed Oct 31, 2023.
. If your initial application is declined, you have 60 days to appeal the decision.

There are four levels of appeal. If you are denied at one stage, you can try to move to the next.

  1. Reconsideration. Your application is returned to the state office and reviewed by a different set of reviewers to see if they approve or deny it. Approximately 15% of reconsideration applications are approved.

  2. Administrative law judge (ALJ) review. A judge reviews your application and asks you, witnesses and experts questions about your disability. The court mails you a written decision. Approximately 51% of these appeals are approved, but the process can take more than a year.

  3. Appeals council hearing. The council reviews the judge's decision for errors. Only about 1% of appeals at this level are approved.

  4. Federal court appeal. Denied applicants can appeal to a federal court, but only about 1% of these cases are approved.

These things may improve your odds of appeal:

  • Know your eligibility. Many people initially denied SSDI benefits aren't eligible to receive them. Review your work history on my Social Security to ensure all of your eligible wages are included.

  • Check the details. Go over all of the entries on your application to see if you missed anything or forgot to include important details. Also, check your handwriting to ensure that everything is legible.

  • Be thorough. Ask your doctors if they have additional documents that could bolster your application. Getting a second opinion or diagnosis from another doctor may also help.

  • Consider hiring an expert. The appeals process can be challenging and stressful. Hiring a disability lawyer or other expert who specializes in SSDI benefits could help highlight missing information or identify ways to improve your application.


Read more about whether these conditions may qualify for disability benefits.


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